On Saturday, June 11, at TWOS Athletic Club, the JPO Foundation held the 1st Annual James P. O'Connell "It's All About Love" Tennis Charity Event. With perfect weather(Thanks James!) over 350 kids and adults enjoyed a fun filled day of tennis clinics, a professional exhibition, lunch, and wonderful fellowship.
French Open Doubles Champions Luke and Murphy Jensen outdid themselves with their enthusiasm and excitement throughout the day. Murphy's addresses to the adults in the morning and then to all the kids in the afternoon were just terrific and will long be remembered.
Due to the generosity of over 40 sponsors and of course everybody that attended, the JPO Foundation raised more than $30,000 that will go to local mental health providers with the hope of keeping another family from this nightmare.
The event was such a success, we are hoping to bring back Luke and Murphy again next year. It will probably be in July 2023 after Wimbledon. We'll get more details out soon.
The O'Connell family and everybody at the JPO Foundation would like to thank all the teaching pros, volunteers, and planning committee members who worked so hard to make this event a fantastic living legacy to James.
We hope you enjoy these photos and videos. We can't wait for next year!
One year. How has it already been one year since our family’s lives have been forever changed?
There are so many things that I wish we could do over. I wish he could take back the one decision that is impossible to take back. I wish I would have spoken the truth to him about the unhealthy relationship he was in for so many years. I wish I would have had the honest and difficult conversations with him over the years on whether he was truly happy. I wish I would have recognized the constant threats and emotional abuse he was continuously enduring the last weeks of his life and put a stop to it. I wish I would have truly slowed down and took the time to find out how their relationship got to the point that it did. There were so many red flags over the years but I never mustered up the courage to tell him how I truly felt about his relationship. There are so many regrets and that is something that I believe will always way heavily on me.
If you find yourself in what you think is an impossible situation and are completely trapped by a significant other, please remember James’ story. If a person truly loves you, they do not bully or threaten you. They do not isolate you from family and friends and continually downplay your accomplishments. They respect you and don’t take advantage of you financially. They support you in good times and in bad. When someone you love is in a relationship that is doing nothing but bringing them down, say something. Sure, they might become defensive at first but it’s better to say something, then nothing at all. If you are in a relationship with someone and you see that they are struggling with their mental health, speak up. Tell someone, anyone.
Please remember that everything is fixable. The pain and anguish that you feel is not going to last forever. Life is hard, but I promise you can do it. You are strong enough. Seek out help. Please don’t allow yourself to make a decision that will break so many, even if it seems like your only logical choice at that point. The only one who knows what’s in your head is you. No one can help you, if you don’t tell someone.
I was talking to a friend the other day and I think what hurts me so badly about losing someone to suicide is that no matter what, you know they were in pain before they died. When I’ve lost people in other ways like to Cancer or Parkinson’s Disease, they were given medication to help their pain and ultimately passed peacefully. If you lose someone in an accident, although tragic, it’s appropriate to assume they probably wouldn’t have felt much pain, as most of the time it’s instantaneous. But with suicide, you just know they absolutely were in pain for months, possibly years, and that is such a hard pill to swallow. When someone dies from an illness or an accident we can ease the pain by saying things like ‘they wouldn’t have known’ or ‘they passed peacefully’ but with suicide we don’t have that. They were in unbearable pain and that’s just the bottom line. There is no justifying the death to make it easier on our ourselves. It hurts knowing that he was in pain for months or possibly longer before leaving this earth. James deserved happiness in this life and to know he didn’t have that at the end and couldn’t go on will haunt me for the rest of my life.
As a society we need to do better with mental health. The system has failed us all. Our system almost always requires long periods of waiting and stigmatizes care that leads people holding out until the very last minute to get help, if ever, at a time when they really can’t afford to wait. If someone is determined to take their own life, there is truly only so much you can do unless they are willing to get help. However, we can do much more to make people feel less embarrassed and ashamed so that they are willing to get help. People want to help and people do love you. You are not a burden. You are not a hassle. You are needed. Talk about it. I can’t help but think that if there wasn’t such a stigma and so much embarrassment around depression and suicide, maybe he would have reached out.
Imagine a scale being tipped back and forth until one side is finally outweighed by the other-a trigger, a moment of impulsivity, a window of opportunity that disrupts the delicate balance that allowed us to survive. That back and forth is exhausting, and it muddles our judgement. If love were enough, we would see much fewer deaths by suicide. It’s so painful to accept that we can love someone to the moon and back, and that’s still not enough to make them stay. It’s so easy to fall down the rabbit hole of thinking of what we could have done differently. Its gut wrenching because it deludes us into thinking that we had some kind of control over the outcome. Even as someone who works in mental health, I missed the signs. It’s still an ongoing process for me to fully surrender to the fact that no one-no matter how smart, how loving, how determined they might be, can keep someone alive. Did we make mistakes over the few weeks and months, I’m sure we did. But when a pot of water is on the stove, even if you turn up the flame, you aren’t responsible for when the water boils. If left on the burner long enough, it was always going to come to a boil.
But what I have come to slowly realize over this last year is what our love did do. It made their time here on earth so much more meaningful. It sustained them in many, many dark moments that I’m sure we never knew about. What I do know is that sharing his story has helped others and I will continue to do so as long as it is making a difference. I will do whatever I can to help people talk about unhealthy relationships and mental health struggles. Help me share this. Share your own story. Be brave and help me stop this from happening to someone else. It’s scary and uncomfortable but I hope when you see how our family has struggled, you will join in our fight. James’ death says nothing about how much we loved him, or how much he loved us. But our grief does-because the pain that we are experiencing in his absence speaks volumes of how deeply we cherished him and still do.
What I also have been learning this last year is that grief is a powerful teacher. It has challenged me, again and again, to recommit to living a life filled with meaning. To give my heart away freely and readily, to speak the truth, and most importantly to let the life I lead to be a living dedication to this person I loved so much. I have learned to live alongside my grief and to live for everything my brother stood for: love, compassion, courage, and joy. James’ death has taught me that grief doesn’t have to consume you and that I need to let if bring me closer to my purpose. This grief is something that I will live with for the rest of my life. Some days will be okay and other days I will want to crawl into bed and just shut off from the rest of the world. Every day is different and that is okay. We are all part of the legacy of James, and every moment we choose to live fully and love deeply, we bring a beautiful part of him back to life. Fight for your own life the way you desperately wish you could have fought for his .
Missing my big brother every day.
I was nervous before the event and was a little worried about doing a book event…without the actual book. I am so thrilled with how it turned out and look forward to another upcoming event in my community. We had tables for children to draw what they thought was under the sheet of The Kindness Machine cover, coloring pages, bookmarks and kindness rocks to take home. A huge shoutout to my mom who has been painting rocks for months! She came up with creative and colorful designs and we added QR codes that link to my website that we modge podged on the bottom. We encouraged the kids who visited our table, to take a rock and hide it somewhere around town. They were very excited about this take away! Thanks mom!
One of the moms who attended the event shared with me that her little daughter LOVES her rock. She said, “It has become a staple in our day to day. It goes to bed with her and sleeps on her dresser, or in her bed, sits beside her while she eats breakfast, rides along to daycare in the cupholder, and relaxes the day away in her cubby at school. Some kids snuggle blankets, while others carry rocks.” The icing on the cake was seeing a few pictures depicting those examples! Hilarious and adorable!
Remember that our book cover does not show the entire kindness machine. It was very exciting to see what children thought was under the sheet and their designs were creative and hilarious! We saw small machines, big machines, colorful machines and some all one color. Some children didn’t think it was a machine beneath the sheet, but rather a thing. For example, they thought there was a wolf under the sheet, a ghost, a dinosaur (which he said was the “kind-o-saurus) and a kind frog! I enjoyed questions from parents/grandparents asking about the book and inspiration. Thank you to all who attended. I truly appreciate your support! A massive shoutout to husband and illustrator, Chad, who helped me set up the event and helped it run smoothly.
I encourage you to take a moment to be kind today and everyday. Be kind to others but also remember be kind to yourself. You are loved. Make today count.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. According to the World Health Organization, one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds. As you know we lost my brother James to suicide 6 months ago. As I reflect upon the significance his death has had on myself and my family, we continue to ask ourselves what we can do to help change the reality of this terrible statistic.
One thing that I continue to hear on a regular basis from James’ countless friends, family, and coworkers is how kind, loyal, and inclusive he always was. Those qualities are something that I will continue to improve on myself, as well as instilling them into my children’s lives. This is why for the month of September the JPO Foundation is challenging you to complete 40 Acts of Kindness in memory of James. This could be volunteering for a local charity, paying for someone’s meal behind you in the drive through, mowing the grass for an elderly neighbor, donating toys to children in need, or simply going out of your way to check in on a family or friend that you haven’t seen in a while. With the pandemic continuing to surge through our country, people are feeling more isolated and hopeless than ever. A simple phone call or text is all it might take to change this outcome for another family. This pandemic has closed us off from so many people that we love. If you or someone you know is in a crisis or is struggling with their mental health, please encourage them to seek help. Notify that person’s family/friends that they are struggling and stay in contact with them to ensure their safety. Staying silent about a loved one’s mental health struggles is never the answer.
The fight to break this statistic is far from over, but I can tell you personally the fight is well worth it when you lose someone that you love.
Let’s keep James’ selfless legacy alive and help brighten someone’s day. James was the epitome of kindness and I know that he will continue to inspire us each and every day.
There are so many wonderful memories I have with James. From (obviously) caps to senior prom to visiting each other at college and tobogganing (while driving him crazy that I couldn’t get the word right), cottages, weddings, to phone calls that were too far between and always ended with “love ya, Welches. We gotta do this more!” One of my favorite memories was driving somewhere with him, learning new songs and singing old ones together. We all knew James’ love of music.
Well, Mrs. O’Connell reached out to me recently and asked if I would record a song for her that Kelly introduced her to, Charlie Puth’s “See You Again.” She sent it to some family, but asked me to share it here too, along with my message to her.
“I hope you like it. I just love the song. I read something the other day I wanted to share. ‘The size of your grief is a reflection of the depth of your love.’ James was so loved. I miss him so much. This one is for him.
All my love,